General practice and the concept of health security partnership

The concept of national “health security partnership” is one that I had never given much thought, when reflecting on the many roles of a General Practitioner. The recent detection of the Influenza A(H1N2) virus in a human in the UK has however made me ponder. After a bit of research, I have come to realise that GPs play a pivotal role in safeguarding health security, not just within our local regions but the United Kingdom at large. 

According to a UK Health & Security Agency (UKHSA) press release on 27th November 2023, the case was detected as part of routine national flu surveillance undertaken by UKHSA and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). The individual was tested by their GP after experiencing respiratory symptoms. Reading about the role of general practice in the detection of this rare strain of the Influenza A virus created an eye-opening moment for me. I said to myself, wait a minute. As frontline healthcare providers in the community, we serve as the first port of call for most patients with various concerns, ranging from worries about disease prevention to, mild to moderate and sometimes severe symptoms. We are responsible for appropriate escalation/reporting to the relevant authorities and thus, essential partners in ensuring the overall well-being of the population. 

This blog explores the multifaceted contributions of GPs to health security, encompassing preventive care, early detection, and the management of public health crises. 

Guardians of preventive healthcare

Firstly, GPs serve as primary guardians of preventive healthcare. Through routine check-ups, vaccinations, and health screenings, we actively engage in disease prevention, thus fortifying the overall health security of the community. By identifying and addressing health risks at an individual level, GPs can be rightly considered to be active contributors to the resilience of the population against potential health threats. According to the World Health Organisation, health security is defined as the activities required, both proactive and reactive, to minimize the danger and impact of acute public health events that endanger people’s health across geographical regions and international boundaries. As they say, prevention is always better than cure and there is no gain saying that GPs are best suited for the individual/family unit approach to this very important aspect of health security.

Early detection of diseases

Secondly and very importantly, the early detection of diseases is a cornerstone of health security, and GPs are instrumental in this aspect. Our close and continuous patient engagement enables us to not only identify subtle signs and symptoms that might indicate the onset of various illnesses but to also generate valuable data that is vital for health surveillance and overall health security of the public. The majority of more experienced GPs already know this and although I am not aware of how many GP practices in the South West England are involved, a third of GPs in England opt to share pseudonymised patient data with the Oxford Royal College of GPs Research and Surveillance Centre, information that is utilised by the UKHSA alongside virology swab samples, to monitor infections and vaccine effectiveness, amongst other health security related indices.

How we approach notifiable diseases

All the above information on the concept of health security partnership and the role GPs must play might not be news to several readers but whether it is for you or not, I’m hoping that this blog triggers some reflection on how we approach suspected or even confirmed notifiable diseases. There are certainly a few more facets to consider in relation to the concept but permit me to conclude with a short follow-up blog, whilst allowing time for what has already been shared above to sink in. There is certainly more to general practice than appears on the surface and members of our Communications Team are hoping to appropriately unravel some parts of the underwater iceberg in future blogs. We are hoping that you, our distinguished readers, stick with us and share your thoughts via the appropriate channels. 

About the writers

Dr Oghenekevwe Daniel Ogidigben BSc, MBBS, MRCGP is a portfolio GP with special interest in emergency medicine. He is also comms lead for the Severn Faculty.